If you've caught the exuberant Broadway adaptation of Hairspray, you'll know what we mean when we say that Kerry Butler damn near steals the show. As heroine Tracy Turnblad's dim-witted but bright-eyed best friend Penny Pingleton, the Brooklyn native pulls no punch lines and turns even secondary stage business into physical comedy of the first order. What's more, Penny's climactic transformation from lovelorn square to lustful "checkerboard chick" takes away theater-goers' breath along with the powerhouse singer's own. So what the heck is the veteran leading lady from Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables doing in a supporting role?
"I actually prefer being in the ensemble," she tells TV Guide Online. "It makes life easier. When you're the lead, you have to be perfect. With Penny, I can do whatever I want, and [the audience] won't care — unless it's really bad!" The ingenue doesn't even mind that Penny shuffles along with two left feet until after she's knocked boots with her African-American boyfriend just before the grand finale. "I'm a really bad dancer, so I was actually relieved about that. People always ask, 'Isn't it hard for you to dance off the beat?' and I say, 'No, the hard part is when I have to dance good at the end!'"
Although the shy starlet may be content to play the second banana on stage indefinitely, Hollywood is growing more and more impatient to thrust her into the spotlight on screen. This pilot season, she was in high demand. "But," she notes, "it's not like I was dying to do something else, so I was, like, 'I'll only [audition] on my day off.'" Finally, she signed on for a proposed Fox series about fraternal twins. "It was the first time I ever felt a tiny bit what it's like to be a star," she giggles, "because they flew me out for the screen test."Regardless of the terrific opportunities that she is being afforded in Los Angeles, Butler is in no hurry to leave the Great White Way. "I just did a reading of The Little Mermaid," she reveals. "They're turning it into a musical." However, neither is she itching to wash the Aquanet out of her locks and leave Hairspray. "I would be excited to get the free stuff that goes along with being on a TV show," she admits, "but I like my life the way it is. Plus, this is the first time I've ever loved doing a show every single night. Usually, after six months, you start feeling like, 'Okay, I have to do it again.' But I still love going to work every single night."